The Wicker Man (1973)
★★ / ★★★★
Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) arrived in an island to investigate the disappearance of a little girl. But when he asked the residents about information regarding the missing child, they claimed that they didn’t know her, as if she never existed. The longer Sergeant Howie stayed on the island, the more he felt a certain level of unease. He was horrified by the village’s strange practices like teachers (Diane Cilento) openly discussing phallic symbols to her students, public sexual intercourse, and umbilical cords hung on a small trees planted on graves. “The Wicker Man,” directed by Robin Hardy, was a strange horror film because I didn’t always feel as horrified as the main character. There were times when I couldn’t help but feel like the film was simply a product of its time or that Sergeant Howie was simply being close-minded. After all, he was a deeply devout Christian. He turned almost aggressive when he encountered anything that challenged his beliefs. In some ways, he wasn’t particularly likable because of the manner in which he judged the villagers, as weird as their culture might be, without trying to understand, even in the rudimentary ways, why the residents moved away from Christianity, symbolized by an abandoned church in ruins. The film also placed emphasis on folk music. It worked in some scenes because the soothing music was an interesting contrast to the unsettling images we saw. However, it wasn’t as effective in other more crucial scenes especially when the real horror, like when Sergeant Howie discovered what the villagers, led by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), were really up to. There were also some scenes that were somewhat difficult to decipher. For instance, when the bartender’s daughter, Willow (Britt Ekland), was dancing in the nude next to Sergeant Howie’s room, was she performing some sort of witchcraft that affected our protagonist physically and psychologically or was it all a dream, something that hinted at Sergeant Howie’s sexual frustration because he considered it a sin to engage in sexual practices before marriage? Certain strands led to dead ends which caused confusion. Perhaps it was the fact that I saw a shortened version of the film. Those missing twenty minutes could possibly shed light to questions related to the secret revealed later in the picture. “The Wicker Man” relied on mood and atmosphere more than images designed to linger in our minds and make us jump. There’s nothing wrong with that. I felt dread during Sergeant Howie’s investigation and the way the residents answered his questions but never really getting to the point. In the end, what mattered most was it all had to come together. I felt as though it did not.